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Are you a Forum Shopper?

“Forum Shopping.”  I love this expression.  Not just because I love shopping – more importantly, because I am fascinated by the lengths people will go to get the answer they want.  In the legal profession, we call that “forum shopping” – asking multiple people for an opinion in a quest to get the opinion you are looking for.

At home, my kids use the technique often.  If my daughter comes to me first and doesn’t get the desired response or result, she will quickly go to my husband, ask the same question, and conveniently omit to mention the conversation she just had with me on the same topic. (In many cases, she gets what she wants from my husband, but is punished later for the approach.)

Admittedly, I have also gone “forum shopping” on occasion. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I found it very difficult to cut back on caffeine – even though most doctors advised to do so.  But, after extensive research, I found a web site (most likely sponsored by the Coffee Growers’ Association) that posited that drinking three cups of caffeinated coffee per day was not hazardous.  I copied that link and shared it with all who dared to challenge me.

Fortunately, my kids turned out OK (although my five year-old son somehow enjoys coffee.)  But forum shopping can be risky – especially when used for business.  Here are four reasons why:

  1. If you have to search hard to get the answer you want, it is likely not the best answer
    If you truly want or need a professional opinion, you should heed the advice provided.  You can always find someone to take your side and agree with you – but that doesn’t make it the right answer.
  2. When you reject the opinions of others, you may alienate them as well
    While you may have found one person to give you the answer you want, you are in turn rejecting the opinions and advice of all those who told you otherwise.  If you want or need their trust and support to move forward, this is not a good way to earn it.
  3. Going around the process shows disrespect for it
    Organizations work hard to build processes that ensure good decision-making.  Forum shopping exposes a loophole in many of those processes.  If others catch on (and they will), standard process will become irrelevant and bad decisions can follow.
  4. Diverse perspectives are only valuable when they are all truly considered
    When forum shopping, you are asking for multiple perspectives – but only to get the one you are looking for.  This is not truly getting a diverse opinion.

Of course, there are times when forum shopping can have a positive result (refer to my coffee example earlier).  But, I recommend proceeding with caution.

Please share your thoughts or comments below.

Jane

7 thoughts on “Are you a Forum Shopper?

  1. Ryan

    Jane:

    Excellent post. I just started following you on Twitter as well. Best of luck with this venture and I look forward to catching up with you over the phone very soon. As for your numbered thoughts, my 2 cents:

    1. I totally agree. Shopping around for the answer you want, at the very least, greatly reduces the chance that you are getting good advice. If you really don;t want anyone else’s advice and you feel strongly you are right, just do what you think is best.

    2. I disagree slightly here. I think that when you give someone advice, you have to be cognizant of the fact that they might not take it, and you can’t feel alienated. It is their (or your) choice, and that is precisely the difference berween advice (a suggestion) and an order. People who get defensive may not really be putting the interests first of the person they are giving advice to. No one is always right. People should be striong enough to overcome someone not following their advice. Besides, this ties to #4. If you get diverse advice, you will likely have conflicting opinions, and then you have to chose which advice seems most reasonable.

    3. I’m with you 100%. Not only does forum shopping expose loopholes, I think it makes the playing field less fair, which I htink is a huge big-picture problem in our current society.

    4. I love this one – I have nothing to add to it.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Ryan

  2. Ryan, thanks for reading and for your insightful comments. I especially like the ones where you agree with my points! 🙂 I wanted to clarify point #2. I completely agree with you that one has to recognize that one’s opinion or advice may not always be followed. (As much as I believe that I am always right, it is critical to keep in mind that others may not always agree with me.) What I take issue with is where there is not a proper vetting process in place to get to the answer, recommendation or path forward on a particular issue. To me, process is the key. Get all the right people in the room, air all of the viewpoints, no matter how at odds or diverse, then pick a path and move on. True, you (as the decision maker) will not make everyone happy all the time. True, you (as the advice giver) must recognize that your opinion will not always be the prevailing one. As lawyers, we have or should have developed a thick skin in that regard. As outside counsel it’s easier to step away from that, as opposed to having a role in house where you are a part of the operation’s success or failure. I’d love to hear any further thoughts you may have on that.

    Keep in touch and give me a call when you have the time to catch up. Hope all is well in sunny Buffalo!

    Jane

  3. I have the same problem with my kids although I’ve never heard it referred to as “Forum shopping”.

    On your points, I disagree with 2 & 3, you shouldn’t take it personally & it’s always handy to get more than one person’s advice regardless of the profession (you wouldn’t take the first quote for a new kitchen would you?) ..

    Most people will consult more than one and make their mind up based on what they have been told (i.e. if one piece of advice keeps popping up they will likely heed it)

    • Selachii, thanks for reading my blog! I agree that one should seek the advice of as many people as the issue warrants. I take more issue with the process that some use to seek that advice. It’s interesting to think that the most frequent response is the right one; sometimes that is true, and sometimes not so much! As a former boss used to say, precedent is not substitute for analysis!

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